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"Flauto e Voce"

Sibylla Elsing, sopranoa; Jan Nigges, recorder
Baroque Avenue

rec: Dec 2 - 5, 2019, Baden-Baden, Hans-Rosbaud-Studio
deutsche harmonia mundi - 19439818482 (© 2021) (67'13")
Liner-notes: E/D; lyrics - translations: E/(D)
Cover & track-list

Johan Friedrich FASCH (1688-1758): Concerto for recorder, strings and bc in F (FWV L,F6); George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759): Serse (HWV 40) (Va godendo vezzoso e bello)a; Johann Christoph PEZ (1664-1716): Concerto Pastorale for 2 recorders, strings and bc in F; Georg Philipp TELEMANN (1681-1767): Daran ist erschienen die Liebe Gottes (TWV 1,165) (O, wer kan die Liebe sagen)a; Der geduldige Sokrates (TWV 21,9) (Mich tröstet die Hoffnung)a; Overture for recorder, strings and bc in a minor (TWV 55,a2)

Michael Schneider, Karsten Erik Ose, recorder; Emanuele Breda, Daria Spiridonova, violin; Zeynep Tamay, viola; Julia Nilsen-Savage, cello; Alexander von Heißen, harpsichord

The title of this disc is a little too ambitious: the programme is far more about the flute (recorder) than the voice. The latter is involved in only three pieces which take less than twelve minutes. The three main works on the programme are all available in other recordings. From that angle this disc has nothing substantial to add to what is already known.

The best-known piece is undoubtedly the Overture in a minor by Telemann. In his oeuvre both the genre of the overture or orchestral suite and the recorder take an important place. The genre of the overture had its roots in France and was inspired by the performance of dances from the operas of Jean-Baptiste Lully. At the end of the 17th century some German composers started to write in his style, especially those whose employers were keen to copy the splendour of Louis XIV's court at Versailles. The second generation of German composers who were interested in the French style mostly mixed elements of it with features of the Italian style. Telemann was one of the most prominent representatives of the 'mixed taste', which he extended with German counterpoint, which was part of his own musical luggage. However, there can be little doubt about his preferences for the French style, as he was rather sceptical about the Italian leanings towards technical virtuosity. From that angle it is a bit surprising that he composed an overture with a part for recorder, which is quite virtuosic at times and often takes a solo role. That is in particular the case in the third movement, which has the appropriate title of air à l'italien.

The recorder was mostly played by amateurs and this explains why only few pieces for this instrument are technically demanding. Telemann's Overture in a minor is one exception, Fasch's Concerto in F another. According to Karsten Erik Ose, in his liner-notes, it was discovered "a few years ago". That depends on what "a few years" is understood to mean. Michael Schneider, Jan Nigges's teacher, recorded it already in 2009. It is a brilliant piece and it is not clear for whom Fasch, working as Kapellmeister at the court in Zerbst, may have written it. Ose's suggestion of a "visiting recorder virtuoso" seems plausible.

The least-known piece may be the Concerto Pastorale by Johann Christoph Pez. Despite its title it has the character of a suite, but then with a mixture of French and Italian elements. Three movements are called aria, with an additional indication of tempo, such as presto or grave. These are mostly 'hidden' dances. The penultimate movement is a long chaconne. Some passages are marked 'trio', and here the two alto recorders are joined by a bass recorder, which is apparently not indicated in the score, but is a fine addition, giving this piece a nice flavour.

Given the important role of the recorder in Telemann's oeuvre, it is not surprising that he used it in his vocal music. The programme offers two very different examples, from one of his pieces for the stage - of which unfortunately little has survived complete - and a sacred cantata. He uses it in these two arias in very different ways, which once again attests to his genius. The aria from Handel's operas Serse is a bit of an outsider in this programme; the instrumental part is for the flautino and is played here at the sopranino recorder.

I am not impressed by the vocal contributions. In Sibylla Elsing's biography in the booklet I can't find any credentials in the field of early music and in her singing I can't hear anything that suggests she could successfully develop in that direction. She is labelled a coloratura soprano, and it does not surprise that the Handel aria comes off best. The Telemann is far less convincing, due to too much vibrato and a less than perfect diction, which makes the text not that well intelligible.

Jan Nigges is a virtuosic recorder player and he deals well with the considerable demands in the pieces by Telemann and Fasch. However, considering the former's reservations towards Italian virtuosity I wonder if he does not go too far in his addition of embellishments. In the réjouissance the top notes sound a bit shrill. It is nice that all the repeats are observed, also in the dacapo sections. On the other hand, the balance between the recorder and the strings is rather unsatisfying, as the recorder tends to be too dominant. The strings have too little presence and are a bit bland. The incessant swelling on almost every note in the polonaise is rather stereotypical. I liked Pez's concerto best, although the third movement is probably a bit faster than the tempo indication grave suggests.

On balance, I can't be that anthusiastic about this disc. It's unlikely I will ever return to it.

Johan van Veen (© 2021)

Relevant links:

Sibylla Elsing
Jan Nigges
Baroque Avenue

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